What to Read This Summer

Here are twelve new books/series that I’ve read this year and can highly recommend for your holiday reading. I’ve arranged them loosely into categories but most of them don’t conform to just one genre.

CONTEMPORARY

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Daisy Jones & The Six
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book is quintessential summer reading—I’m predicting you’ll see a lot of it on Instagram holiday posts. Daisy Jones and the Six is a band-biopic-style story about the rise and fall of it-girl Daisy Jones and rock band The Six, set in seventies Los Angeles, told in the form of snippets from interviews with the band and those connected to them. It has a cast of characters so believable you’ll want to google them. There’s Daisy herself, a neglected child and drug addict, but also a brilliant songwriter exploited by male artists until she learns to stand up for herself. Billy Dunne, the lead singer, is arrogant, self-centred and locked in a love-hate relationship with Daisy. Camila, his wife, knows what she signed up for and is determined to stick with Billy despite everything. And Karen, the keyboardist, wants to be a professional musician but the men in her life can’t quite get their heads around the fact that she doesn’t want to get married and have children. Daisy Jones & The Six is a wonderfully atmospheric, nostalgic read that captures the fleeting nature of youth and fame, while also being optimistic about the resilience of love. I couldn’t put it down – a thoroughly enjoyable book.

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The Heavens
by Sandra Newman
Kate and Ben meet at a party in New York and at first it feel like a quintessential millennial meet-cute, a New York version of Normal People, but then we read that the Green Party is in power, there’s a female president, poverty is in decline and things are looking up for the planet—it seems that Kate and Ben live in a utopian alternate reality. But then we learn that Kate sometimes dreams she has been transported into the dreams of another woman. One day she wakes up in another time and discovers that her actions in the past can change the present, but they could also have disastrous consequences for the future. I love a genre-bending novel and The Heavens is a synthesis of beautiful prose, scalpel-sharp observation and a dreamlike sequence of events that put me in mind of Station Eleven, The Summer of Impossible Things, The Time Traveller’s Wife and Russian Doll. A disorientating and captivating novel.

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My Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, this book will inspire anyone to appreciate their own annoying younger sisters. (Just testing to see if they read my blog posts.) Korede is the dutiful, responsible hard-working older sister. Ayoola is the beautiful but spoilt younger sister and favourite child. She is also a psychopath. Korede spends her time clearing up after her sister: helping her dispose of bodies, cover her tracks and hide evidence. Her work as a nurse and her blossoming friendship with an attractive doctor makes the hospital Korede’s oasis away from her demanding sister, but Korede’s loyalty to her sister is tested when Ayoola invades the hospital and sets her sights on the same doctor. I really enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer—a scalpel-sharp and darkly humorous portrait of sisterly love.

CRIME & THRILLER

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Into the Water
by Paula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train was the lauded as the new Gone Girl, became a bestseller and received the Hollywood treatment but I found Paula Hawkins’ next novel, Into the Water, a better written and much more interesting book. Jules ignores a phone call from her sister Nel, and now Nel is dead in an apparent suicide, and Jules must return to the town she escaped from and confront her past and her fears. At first glance this book is a thriller but there’s a lot more going on below the surface, from the wonderfully atmospheric setting of ‘The Drowning Pool’ and the complex relationships between Jules, her sister and her niece, to the theme of women being violently silenced by men. Highly recommended.

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Red Snow (Tuva Moodyson Mystery #2)
by Will Dean
Will Dean is a British author who writes Scandi-Noir inspired by the terrifying forest on the remote outskirts of Sweden where he lives with his family. (Read Dark Pines – Tuva Moodyson #1 first if you haven’t read it.) Tuva’s return did not disappoint, Will Dean maintains the sinister atmosphere that made the first book so chillingly enticing. Tuva is finishing up her last couple of weeks at the Gavrik Posten before moving south for a better-paid position in a larger town, but there’s a new murderer on the loose, nicknamed ‘The Ferryman’. Tuva digs for the inside scoop on the Ferryman, recklessly endangering herself in the process, while also taking on some freelance research work—interviewing the eccentric and ill-fated Grimberg family who own the local liquorice factory and employ most of the town. Another beautifully written, evocative, intriguing story—I may never feel warm again.

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Blood for Blood (Ziba MacKenzie #1)
Nothing to Lose (Ziba MacKenzie #2)
by Victoria Selman
Ziba Mackenzie is a profiler, still coming to terms with her husband’s sudden violent death two years earlier, when she is involved in a horrific rail accident. The same accident incites a notorious serial killer to start a new killing spree and Ziba is called in to profile him and track him down. In Nothing to Lose Ziba finds a lead in her husband’s unsolved murder case and starts to dig deeper into a case of corruption and cover-up that will put her life in danger, while also investigating a new serial killer on the loose whose victims look alarmingly similar to Ziba herself. I thoroughly enjoyed these unpredictably twisty thrillers and I’m looking forward to the next Ziba MacKenzie book.

HISTORICAL FICTION

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The Doll Factory
by Elizabeth Macneal
The Doll Factory is the story of Iris, a shop-girl who longs to be an artist, and Silas, a sinister taxidermist and collector. Their fateful meeting leads to Iris being asked to model for one of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, opening doors for her to learn to paint and pursue her own artistic dreams. At the same time Silas becomes obsessed with Iris and begins to plan a different future for her. The Doll Factory definitely falls into the ‘lush historical fiction’ category with books like The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Victorian London is evoked in wonderfully visceral detail, but it is also a romance, an artistic coming-of-age story and a page-turning thriller. Brilliantly done.

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The Corset
by Laura Purcell
I loved Laura Purcell’s first book, The Silent Companions—a super-creepy ghost story, but The Corset is subtler, more sinister and reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. Dorothea Truelove uses her charitable visits to Oakgate Prison as a respectable cover to indulge her true passion, phrenology—the study of personality through the bumps on a human skull, popular in the Victorian era. When Ruth Butterham arrives at the prison Dorothea jumps at the chance to examine the skull of a real murderess to see what she can divine. Ruth confesses to Dorothea an outlandish belief that her stitching and embroidery has the power to kill people. The truth is beautifully unravelled as Ruth tells her tragic story and the final reveal is suitably satisfying. A fiendishly clever book – loved it!

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The Binding
by Bridget Collins
The blurb of The Binding made it sound quite similar to The Corset, and it has a similarly beautiful cover design, but though it has a historical feel—this book is set in an alternate past. Emmett Farmer is summoned from the fields of his family farm to become an apprentice to a Bookbinder, but in this world, bookbinding is something more magical and more sinister than the name implies. I don’t want to spoil the plot by giving too much away, suffice it to say this is a captivating adventure and love story, with a hint of magical-realism. Perfect for fans of The Miniaturist.

FANTASY

If you’re looking for your epic fantasy fix now Game of Thrones has finished, here are my suggestions:

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The Priory of the Orange Tree
by Samantha Shannon
I’ve had this one on my to-read list since I heard about it, particularly because of its evocative title. And The Priory of the Orange Treeis everything I hope it would be: a richly-detailed world with beautifully imagined histories, genealogies, mythologies and religions, plus complex characters and, of course, dragons. I’m glad I bought the hardback version (even though it’s a gigantic tome) as I frequently needed to flip back to the maps at the front to work out where the action was happening. (Kindle really need to work on a functionality solution for maps.) I particularly love the way Samantha Shannon uses a classic fantasy structure but turns the traditional tropes on their heads, like the conventions of monarchy, for example. (Why isn’t the word ‘Queendom’ used more often?) A thoroughly engrossing world.

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The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)
The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2)
by S.A. Chakraborty
The City of Brass is an ambitious fantasy novel set in the magical world of the Djinn. Nahri is a fortune teller and thief living off her wits and her magical healing abilities in Cairo until the day she accidentally summons a Djinn and is swept away (on a magic carpet of course) into a world she knows nothing about. Dara the Djinn takes her to Daevabad, the home of her ancestors, a city simmering with historical tensions between the Djinn and the half-human Shafit people and between the various Djinn tribes. The second narrator, Alizayd, is the second son of the King of Daevabad. A devout Muslim, Ali is concerned with the plight of the Shafit and is secretly funding a political group to aid them. When Nahri arrives in the city, Ali and Nahri are both caught up in the King’s machinations as he tries to maintain peace and hold on to his power in politically turbulent time. The author has created a richly detailed world, some layered, nuanced characters and an interesting plot. The second book, The Kingdom of Copper, is even better. Can’t wait for the final book.

Some of my favourite fantasy series came to an end in 2019, like Sarah J Maas’s epic, Tolkienesque Throne of Glass series. (Definitely worth a read if you’re a big fantasy fan—but warning, there are seven hefty books plus a prequel novella in the series.)

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The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3)
by Katherine Arden
The final book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy was also released this year. (Read The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower first.) The Winter of the Witch picks up exactly where the last book left off. Vasya has defeated the usurper but Moscow is in flames, still vulnerable to attack and its people are looking for a scapegoat. Can Vasya save herself as well as Moscow, and will she finally discover her own place in the world? The final book is everything I hoped it would be. Vasya continues to forge her own way and she defies anyone who attempts to constrain her—even her relationship with Morozko is defined on her terms, rather than his. The trilogy is set in medieval Russia at the moment of unification and it was fascinating to discover that many of the characters are based on real historical figures. Katherine Arden has created a beautifully seamless and lyrical blend of historical fiction and folklore. Unputdownable.

What to Read this Summer

It’s that time of year again—here’s a list of 14 books I’ve read recently and can highly recommend for your holiday reading.

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Circe
by Madeline Miller 

This is my favourite book of the year so far, from the author of the beautiful Song of Achilles. Circe is the daughter of a titan and a nymph – she is immortal but lacks the power of her father and the beauty of her mother. But there are other ways to have power. When Circe discovers a talent for witchcraft she transforms a rival into a terrible monster – as a result she is banished to the island of Aiaia. Despite her isolation she encounters some legendary characters of Greek mythology: Daedalus and Icharus, the Minotaur, Jason and the Golden Fleece, and of course, Odysseus. Madeline Miller weaves a wonderfully engrossing, epic tale that has many familiar elements but is also strikingly new – a story of a goddess finding her voice. Brilliant!

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I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death
by Maggie O’Farrell

An exquisitely written account of seventeen true ‘brushes with death’. I don’t want to give anything away about the trajectory of the book, except to say that the intention of the stories is not to shock or to horrify, but to affirm life and the joy of living in the face of our (eventual) inevitable death. Powerful and poignant.

 

 

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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton

I’m trying to imagine the incredibly complicated planning document the author must have created to work out the plot of this book. It has a solid foundation of an Agatha Christie-style closed-house murder mystery that is a clever puzzle in itself – the death of Evelyn Hardcastle, daughter of the house, on the anniversary of her brother’s murder twenty years earlier. But there is so much more layered on top of this – I don’t want to give anything away but imagine a David Lynch story – but with an actual solution. Fiendishly clever and brilliantly imagined.

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Annihilation (Southern Reach #1)
by Jeff VanderMeer 

You might recognise this one from the recent Netflix film of the same name starring Natalie Portman. An unnamed biologist joins a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist on the twelfth expedition into a mysterious wasteland called Area X. The previous eleven expeditions have all ended in disaster, including the most recent one that the biologist’s husband was a part of. It took me a while to get into this, the narration is quite frustrating to start with as it weirdly stilted and seems to conceal more than it reveals but as the biologist explores the mysteries of Area X, more of the mysteries of who she is, are revealed. An intensely unsettling and bewildering reading experience but brilliantly imagined, and I enjoyed the other two books in the series as well. The film veers from the plot of the book quite significantly but maintains the same eeriness and vibrant sense of menace, so it is worth watching, after you’ve read the book of course.

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Less
by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is the kind of book that grows on you, as did the main character, American author – Arthur Less. At first, he seems rather pathetic. He’s not been successful professionally: the critics called him a ‘magniloquent spoony’, his books have never become bestsellers and his publishers have just declined his latest novel. His long-time boyfriend is about to marry someone else so, to avoid having to go to the wedding, he accepts a series of random invitations and embarks on a round-the-world trip. It’s a slapstick setup, but as Less travels and we learn more about the history of his relationships, it transforms into a poignant tale, and Less himself becomes something of a romantic hero. A funny, moving and uplifting love story.

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Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi

The story of two sisters living on the Gold Coast of Africa whose lives follow very different routes. Esi is sold into slavery and shipped to America in horrific conditions, her descendants must slowly claw their way out of captivity and poverty to freedom. ‘Effia the Beauty’ marries a slave trader and her descendants are inescapably complicit in the slave trade. It’s an incredibly epic and ambitious story and you only get one chapter from each character as the book tracks the generations that follow the two sisters. But somehow, even in one chapter, the author creates characters that feel real and authentic, and each story is engaging and deeply moving. A powerful and compelling book.

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I Still Dream
by James Smythe

1997: 17-year-old Laura Bow develops a basic artificial intelligence that she uses to talk to about her life. She calls it Organon. From then the story checks in with Laura every decade as the world changes and Organon develops. Laura protects Organon and her own privacy fiercely but when society is threatened by other artificial intelligences, not as responsibly and sensitively nurtured, Laura must decide whether to release Organon to the world. Without spoiling it, I loved the cyclical nature of the ending and found it incredibly moving. A brilliant and thought-provoking book.

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Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles

I loved this even more than A Gentleman in Moscow. New York, New Year’s Eve 1937: Katey Kontent and her friend Evelyn are in a jazz bar when they meet Tinker Grey, a chance encounter that will have dramatic repercussions for all of them. The story follows Katey, in particular, for the next few years as she negotiates her career, friendships and relationships. Katey is an endlessly fascinating narrator she’s intelligent, independent, self-aware, ambitious but also pragmatic. Despite the limitations of her own working-class background and other circumstances working against her, she claims her own agency and her right to self-determination over and over again. It’s a book about feminism, class and privilege – wrapped a beautifully stylish tribute to jazz-age New York City. Utterly captivating.

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The Heart’s Invisible Furies
by John Boyne 

Ireland, 1945: sixteen-year-old Catherine Goggin is denounced as a whore, thrown out by her family and cast out of her village by the local priest when they discover she’s pregnant. She escapes to Dublin and, when she gives birth, a ‘little hunchbacked Redemptorist nun’ arranges for her son to be adopted by a couple who can’t have children of their own. Cyril’s adoptive parents, Maude and Charles, treat him more like a tenant than a son and make it clear to him that he is not a ‘real’ Avery. When Cyril is seven years old he meets Julian Woodbead, his best friend and first love. Thus begins the misadventures of Cyril Avery. Against a backdrop of tumultuous Irish history, including IRA kidnappings and bombings in the 50s and 60s, right up until the marriage equality referendum of 2015, Cyril comes to terms with who he is and manages to find love and family, despite unlikely circumstances and some tragic twists of fate. An epic, angry, hilarious and heart-breaking book – I couldn’t put it down.

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The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Following in the footsteps of ‘The Miniaturist’ and ‘The Essex Serpent’, ‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ sits firmly in the category of lush historical fiction. (I did buy the hardback as the cover design is stunning.) The story is set in Georgian London but explores the lives of characters that are not usually in the spotlight – courtesans, immigrants, people of mixed-race, merchants, and of course, mermaids. Jonah Hancock is a comfortably-established merchant and widower who lives under the thumb of his elder sister until the unexpected arrival of a mermaid disrupts his existence, thrusts him in a world he knew little about and sets up a fateful encounter with Angelica Neal, a high-class courtesan, in search of a new benefactor. An evocative, beautifully-written piece of historical fiction with just a hint of magical realism.

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A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2)
by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit follows directly after the events of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but focuses on two different characters – Pepper, who we met briefly in the first book, and the rebooted version of the Wayfarer’s AI, Lovelace, now called ‘Sidra’, in her new illegal body, or ‘kit’ as she refers to it. The chapters alternate between Sidra’s experience adapting to life in a body, and flashbacks to Pepper’s traumatic childhood as a genetically engineered human slave and the story of her escape from her home planet. Becky Chambers, once again, creates a fascinating, richly-detailed universe populated with authentic, believable, diverse characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. (And Book 3 is out shortly!)

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The Surface Breaks
by Louise O’Neill

Finally, the feminist retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’ we’ve all been waiting for. I grew up reading the Hans Christian Andersen version of the story which is much darker than the saccharine Disney tale, and The Surface Breaks is based the original but filtered through a contemporary feminist lens – there’s even a sneaky Donald Trump reference in there. It’s a harrowing story, filled with pain and desperation, but the final paragraphs are fiercely triumphant. Brilliantly done. I was torn about whether to let my 11-year-old read it, there are so many important themes but the content is very dark. Of course, after I told her it might be too traumatic for her, she read it immediately and loved it.

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A Skinful of Shadows
by Frances Hardinge

I am extremely jealous of Frances Hardinge’s imagination. Makepeace lives with her mother and her mother’s Puritan relatives in the time leading up to the English Civil War. Makepeace is aware that she is different to other people in that she can see and hear ghosts but her mother trains her to drive them away and protect herself from ever being possessed by them. But when tragedy strikes Makepeace is sent to stay with her father’s sinister relatives and in a moment of weakness she allows herself to be possessed by a wild and brutish spirit. But when Makepeace discovers the awful secret her father’s family are hiding then the ghost is the one who protects her and gives her the strength to escape them. A thrilling, wildly imaginative tale and another fascinating protagonist from Frances Hardinge. (And the 11-year-old couldn’t put it down either.) Brilliant!

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Home Fire
by Kamila Shamsie

This was already on my list of 17 Best Books of 2017 but I thought I’d give it another mention in light of the fact that it has recently won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and that Kamila Shamsie has proved prescient in her unlikely prediction of a Tory Muslim Home Secretary. Home Fire is a timely, topical and beautifully-written retelling of the Greek myth of Antigone. Fortunately, I didn’t remember the details of the story, so it didn’t ruin the ending for me, though I should have realised, knowing Greek mythology, that (spoiler alert!) it wasn’t going to end well.

13 Great Summer Reads 2017

13 books, published since last summer, that I have read and can highly recommend.

 

34200289Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – by Gail Honeyman

The runaway hit of the summer. Everything in Eleanor Oliphant’s life is scheduled and predictable, she’s entirely self-sufficient and she’s completely fine, until an accident forces her to allow some other people into her tightly-controlled life and everything begins to unravel. Eleanor is a strangely detached and pedantic narrator, so much so that I had to go back and check how old she is because she sounds 50 years older than she is. But when you get beyond this facade, this is a wonderfully warm, uplifting and heart-breaking story.

 

32511982Midwinter – by Fiona Melrose

Midwinter is about two Suffolk farmers, father and son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter. Vale’s mother was violently murdered in Zambia ten years earlier but since their return to England father and son have never really spoken about what happened or made peace with each other. A boat accident is the catalyst that sparks the beginning of the novel and finally tears open the old wound between father and son. I am deeply envious of Fiona’s beautiful way with words—powerful prose and a moving story.

 

32595029Little Deaths – by Emma Flint

Inspired by a true story, Little Deaths is about the kidnapping and murder of two children in New York in the sixties. Ruth Malone is a single mother who, because of the way she dresses and the male attention she receives, becomes the main suspect in the horrific murder of her own children. This is a very well-written, evocative book but the way Ruth is treated makes for a painful read.

 

 

31195557The Power – by Naomi Alderman

If you haven’t yet read this book, you should, particularly if you’ve been watching the new adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The Power imagines a world where young girls, and later all women, develop the ability to produce electric shocks with their hands. At first their ability leads to liberation and justice for enslaved women and victims of abuse—but of course, power corrupts, the pendulum swings wildly in the opposite direction and suddenly men are the abused and enslaved ones in this scenario. There are so many great role-reversal moments in this book, right from the introductory notes when a female editor praises the male ‘author’ for including lots of good, strong male characters. Naomi Alderman also does not shy away from some truly disturbing scenes of rape and torture as men become the weaker sex. Despite this The Power is an important story because the horrors that some woman face, even today, are made fresh when you flip the gender switch—we should feel outrage and disgust, because the way things are should not be the norm. A brilliantly though-provoking, if thoroughly uncomfortable, read.

 

29584452The Underground Railroad – by Colson Whitehead

The story of Cora, a slave on a Georgia plantation, and her escape via the Underground Railroad, in this case imagined as a literal Underground Railroad, is interspersed with real notices about runaway slaves. Somehow this blending of fact and fiction, the historical reality of slavery with a slightly surreal version of the railroad only makes the horrors more vivid and shocking. A heart-breaking read.

 

 

33590076How to Stop Time – by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time is a Benjamin Buttonesque novel about a man with a strange medical condition that extends his lifespan to several centuries. Tom Hazard (great name) teaches history at an inner city secondary school in London, a suitable occupation for one who has in fact met William Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald and various other historical characters. A shadowy organisation called the Albatross club has been protecting people like Tom for many years—from being burnt as a witch in the 17th century to being experimented on by scientists in the 21st century. Their most important rule, however, is don’t fall in love. But how do you find meaning in your life when you’ll outlive all those around you? Matt Haig has a gift for writing profoundly and movingly about vast subjects like life, love and time, without being reductive or cheesy. A thoroughly enjoyable story.

 

34372486The Ice – by Laline Paull

If you loved The Bees, just to let you know up front that Laline Paull’s second book is nothing like The Bees. But the fact that the author can write two such different books is testament to her vast and flexible talent. The Ice is a thriller about business, politics and development in the Arctic Circle and reminded me of a John Le Carre novel. Sean Cawson and Tom Harding meet as students and bond over a shared passion for arctic exploration, but while Sean focuses on becoming a successful businessman, Tom is an environmentalist and their conflicting values put pressure on their friendship until Tom disappears in a terrible accident. When Tom’s body reappears, the inquest begins to uncover layers of deception in their shared business venture and, possibly, a motive for murder. It is set in the future but hardly—with its calving glaciers and melting ice caps it feels very contemporary. The one thing it does have in common with The Bees is an environmental message. It took me a little while to get into the story but once I was in she had me hooked till the end.

 

29486766Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1) – by Laini Taylor

Definitely worth the wait, Laini Taylor’s new epic fantasy novel is everything I’d hoped it would be. Lazlo Strange is an abandoned orphan refugee, rescued by monks, who becomes a librarian obsessed with the mystery of the lost city of Weep on the other side of an impassable desert. Until one day an emissary party arrives from the lost city and ‘Strange the Dreamer’ decides that he will do anything he can to join them on their return journey and see the Unseen City for himself. Lazlo is a great character, the story is a tribute to the ‘fools who dream’ and it’s lovely to have a protagonist/saviour who’s not an amazing warrior, but instead is a researcher and storyteller. And of course there is romance, magic and mystery and everything else you would expect from Laini Taylor. A wonderful escapist adventure.

 

33837269A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) – by V.E. Schwab

The third and final instalment in V.E. Schwab’s fantasy adventure is set in not just one London—but four different parallel dimensions of London. Expect fantastic world-building, action, suspense and vivid characters: Kell, a realm-travelling magician from Red London and Lila, a resilient and resourceful pickpocket from Grey London whose sole ambition in life is to be a pirate. Victoria Schwab is one of my favourite fantasy authors and A Conjuring of Light is a perfect ending to an epic series.

 

35158816Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) – by Victoria Schwab

The only author to make two appearances on my list, (because she’s prolific and brilliant), Our Dark Duet is the second and final book in the Monsters of Verity series. ‘This Savage Song’ introduced us to a brand new, brilliantly weird universe. It sounds a bit Romeo and Juliet (the Baz Luhrmann version) – the city of Verity is split down the middle and ruled by two families with opposing philosophies, the Harkers and the Flynns. In the first book their children, Kate Harker and August Flynn, start out spying on each other and end up going on the run together. But of course, there are monsters and this is no simpering romance. In the sequel, Kate Harker is hunting monsters in Prosperity to atone for her sins until something darker than she’s ever faced before leads her back to Verity. August Flynn has stepped into his brother Leo’s shoes and is slowly losing touch with the part of himself that longed to be human. It’s only when Kate and August reunite and work together that they can rediscover the good in themselves and take on the horrific ‘Chaos Eater’. ‘For never was a story of more woe…’ this one is a heartbreaker. The world Victoria Schwab has created in this series is dark, richly layered and wildly imaginative, as in the Shades of Magic Series. I thoroughly enjoyed these two books.

 

34108705The Hate U Give – by Angie Thomas

Starr is a sixteen-year-old girl who lives two, deliberately separate lives. At her exclusive school in a wealthy area she is one of the only three black kids in the school and has assigned herself strict rules of behaviour to fit in, if not blend in. After school, she goes home to her other life in Garden Heights—a life of poverty, crime, drugs and gangs, but also warmth, family and community support. When her unarmed friend is shot by a white police officer while she is in the car, her worlds collide and she has to decide how to reconcile the two different parts of herself. Read this book. It is not only timely, topical and important but also gripping and engaging and should be required reading in secondary schools.

 

34931507One Of Us Is Lying – by Karen M. McManus

Five students arrive in detention on a Monday afternoon at Bayview High: the brain, the beauty, the criminal, the athlete and the outcast. By the end of detention one of them is dead and, by process of elimination, one of them must be a murderer. ‘The Breakfast Club plus Gossip Girl murder mystery’ is a great elevator pitch and this book sucked me in straight away. I did guess the ending but it was well plotted and skilfully unspooled for the reader—an enjoyable read.

 

28116830Mooncop – by Tom Gauld

I am big fan of Tom Gauld’s comics so I couldn’t resist this, and, like the rest of his work, Mooncop is beautifully drawn, poignant, wry and meditative. Just lovely!

 

Twenty Books to Read This Summer

I’ve done this for the last couple of years on the Writers’ Hub so I thought I’d continue the tradition on my own site. Same format: ten newish books that I’ve read recently and can highly recommend, and ten books I haven’t read yet but are at the top of my To Read list for the summer.

TEN RECOMMENDATIONS:

Essex SerpentThe Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This is my top recommendation for the summer—read this book, if nothing else. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies she retreats from London to Essex with her son Francis where they begin to hear rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Who knew there was an Essex serpent? I’d only heard of the ‘Essex lion’ which as I recall turned out to be a slightly overweight tabby.

Somewhere in between AS Byatt and Tracy Chevalier, The Essex Serpent is jam-packed with fascinating characters, atmospheric prose and intriguing plotting. It’s a brilliant book about love and friendship, science and faith.

And just look at that beautiful cover—I’m quite sad that I bought the Kindle edition. This will definitely be going on my best book cover design list at the end of the year.

The Book of Memory

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Memory is a black Zimbabwean woman with albinism, on death row for the murder of a white man, Lloyd Hendricks. We don’t know how or why or even if she actually killed him and the details are spun out through the book, from her earliest memories of her childhood with her parents and two sisters, to her life with Lloyd and then later her time in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare and then a final heart-breaking revelation. There is a particularly beautiful quote at the end which sums up the book perfectly:

To accept that there are no villains in my life, just broken people, trying to heal, stumbling in darkness and breaking each other, to find a way to forgive my father and mother, to forgive Lloyd, to find a path to my own forgiveness.

Highly recommended—poignant, lyrical and intensely moving.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I’m a sci-fi wuss—I like sci-fi-lite, speculative fiction, dystopian fiction, fantasy, but I’ve always found proper sci-fi rather terrifying. (Still traumatised from watching the Lost in Space TV series when I was a kid). And ‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’ is proper, hardcore sci-fi complete with space travel, weird looking aliens and shedloads of impenetrable sci-fi jargon. And yet I completely loved this book and I couldn’t put it down.

The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship that creates wormhole-type shortcuts through the fabric of space and we meet the mixed-species crew on the day that a new human member, Rosemary, is introduced for the first time. Shortly afterwards they’re offered their most ambitious job yet—to travel to a distant planet inhabited by a particularly belligerent species and create a tunnel home.

Becky Chambers has taken all of the conventions of sci-fi for the structure of this novel but on top of that she has layered some incredibly rich characterization—in particular the distinguishing traits and motivations of the various alien races. (The alien’s perspective of humanity also provides a humorous note). The most poignant piece of characterisation though is the life she instils into ‘Lovey’, the Wayfarer’s AI operating system. Lovey’s personality has developed through many hundreds of hours of interaction with the crew and, even though she doesn’t have a body, they view her as a member of the crew.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a brilliantly inventive, engaging, thought-provoking read.

The Last PilotThe Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

The Last Pilot begins with Jim Harrison, a test pilot in the Mojave Desert in the 1940’s and follows his career through to the peak of the space race in the late 60s. It starts out with a lot of technical jargon about flying and aeronautical engineering but it is very quickly apparent that the heart of the story is the relationship between Jim and his wife, Grace.

I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. It’s obviously a compliment to the author’s writing style that he has been compared to Cormac McCarthy, but it does also imply that the book might be miserable and depressing—the blurb even seems to suggest that the book is about failure and tragedy. But it’s not.

The prose does have a kind of sparse realism, but the emotional depth builds up in the spaces behind and between the lines. It is superbly written—beautiful and heart-breaking. Setting Harrison’s personal tragedy against an epic backdrop of space exploration doesn’t diminish it, instead it somehow makes it universal.

Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie

The Portable Veblen is a simply lovely book about an incongruous selection of subjects: marriage, familial relationships, medical advertising blurbs, the FDA approval process, and squirrels. The squirrels are the most important bit of course. I particularly enjoyed this bit of wisdom a squirrel imparts to the main character Veblen:

I want to meet muckrakers, carousers, the sweet-toothed, and the lion-hearted…

Don’t we all!

The Lie Tree 2

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

It’s rare to find a book with such a good message that is not at all moralistic or preachy. The Lie Tree, winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2015, is a thoroughly researched and beautifully written piece of historical fiction, woven together with dark and mystical elements and a strong feminist sensibility.

Faith Sunderly is a fourteen-year-old girl, who is, by virtue of her age, gender and the time period she lives in, rendered invisible in society and definitely perceived as less important that her six-year-old brother. Faith’s father is a clergyman and a well-known natural scientist but at the opening of the novel he has just been accused of fabricating some of his most famous fossil discoveries. The family have fled from the scandal to the small island of Vane where Faith’s father has been invited to join a fossil dig.

Faith, a budding natural scientist herself, possesses a passionate curiosity that gets her into trouble but also serves her well as she investigates a suspicious death and explores the properties of the mysterious Lie Tree. Faith is a great character—possessing all of the intelligence and strength of mind you would hope for but combining it with occasional spitefulness and sullenness that just makes her more real.

The Lie Tree itself, a tree that thrives on human lies and yet bears fruit that illuminates truth, is a brilliant invention at the heart of this story. Altogether it’s a beautifully crafted, thrilling, intriguing story and Faith is an inspiring character.

One

One by Sarah Crossan

Winner of the Carnegie Medal and the YA Book Prize in 2016, One is the story of conjoined twins Tippi and Grace told in prose-poetry from the perspective of Grace. It is beautifully written, insightful, gripping and terribly moving—a book that messes with all of your preconceptions about conjoined twins.

This book was actually recommended to me by my nine-year-old, who LOVED it and nagged me until I read it too.

I bought it in hardback and I love the eye-catching turquoise and cerise cover design and the American cover design looks amazing too.

This Savage Song

This Savage Song by VE Schwab

I would read a dishwasher instruction manual written by Victoria Schwab. There seems to be no limit to her imagination, I loved both of her Shades of Magic books, and This Savage Song introduces us to a brand new, brilliantly weird universe.

It all sounds a bit Romeo and Juliet (the Baz Luhrmann version, of course)—the city of Verity is split down the middle and ruled by two families with opposing philosophies, the Harkers and the Flynns. Their children, Kate Harker and August Flynn, start out spying on each other and then end up going on the run together. But of course, there are monsters and this is no simpering romance.

I loved this story, particularly the musical component, and can’t wait for the next instalment.

Uprooted

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka lives in a quiet village in the shadow of a malevolent, corrupted forest—the only person who can keep them safe is a wizard called The Dragon. In return for his help, though, he selects one young woman to serve him for ten years and Agnieszka is convinced that this time he’s going to take her best friend, Kasia.

These days it is fashionable for forests to signify wisdom and goodness, so it was refreshing to encounter a forest-as-creepy-villain, with shades of Tolkien.

Uprooted is a magical, thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable read.

The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Translated by Deborah Smith)

Plagued by terrible nightmares, a once dutiful and submissive wife, Yeong-hye, decides to become a vegetarian and seek a more ‘plant-like’ existence. Her husband becomes increasingly sadistic in response, her sister’s husband, a video artist, becomes obsessed with documenting her, but all Yeong-hye wants is to become a tree.

I’m almost hesitant to recommend this one as it is dark and disturbing—not exactly a ‘beach read’, but if you’re not put off by that The Vegetarian is also hauntingly beautiful, uncanny, powerful and intensely moving.

Translated by Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian was also the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016.

 

TEN BOOKS ON MY TO READ LIST:

The Muse


The Muse by Jessie Burton

Next up in my Wimbledon book club, I’m sure I don’t need to say much about The Muse because, if you read The Miniaturist, then I’m sure you were planning on reading this one too. Another beautiful cover.

 

The Girls
The Girls by Emma Cline

The viral hit of the summer, as recommended by Lena Dunham amongst others—a Charles Manson-type scenario, set in California in the summer of ’69.

 

Museum of You
The Museum of You by Carys Bray

I loved A Song for Issy Bradley so I’m definitely going to read Carys Bray’s next novel—Clover Quinn curates an exhibition of her dead’s mother’s things to surprise her Dad.

 

My Name is Leon
My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

Been meaning to read this one for a while—the story of Leon and his little brother Jake and what happens when they have to go into foster care.

 

Nothing Tastes as Good
Nothing Tastes As Good by Claire Hennessy

YA fiction, Annabel is dead and has been assigned as Julia’s ‘ghostly helper’—she’s convinced it’s her job to help Julia get thinner, but is that really what she’s supposed to be doing?

 

The Otherlife
The Otherlife by Julia Gray

Another YA novel I’ve been looking forward to: mystical alternate worlds, Norse mythology and exclusive boys’ school friendships—an interesting mix.

 

Vinegar Girl
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series—a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. I’ve never actually read Taming of the Shrew but I loved Ten Things I Hate About You—that’s got to count for something, right?

 

Lucy Barton
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

This one has been nominated for all of the major awards and is about a relationship between a mother and daughter. I’ve got Olive Kitteridge loaded up on the Kindle right now, so might just have to read that one first.

 

The Loney
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Winner of the Costa Books First Novel Award in 2015, this one has an intriguing cover and an even more intriguing name. What or who is the ‘Loney’—I’ll let you know when I find out.

 

Mooncop
Mooncop by Tom Gauld

This one will actually only be published at the end of the Summer but I’m looking forward to it anyway. You may have seen Tom Gauld’s whimsical comics in The Guardian, Mooncop is about the adventures of the last policeman living on the moon—I’m imagining a kind of contemporary Little Prince.